Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem recently addressed the UN General Assembly, accusing Israel of supporting terrorism while warning that his country intends to “liberate” the Golan Heights from Israel.
“Israel supported terrorist organizations in southern Syria and intervened to protect them,” Muallem said. “Just as we liberated southern Syria from terrorists, we are determined to restore the Golan Heights to the borders set in 1967.”
Syrian state media often describe Israeli air strikes against Syrian or Iranian military sites as support for terrorist groups.
“We call on Israel to comply with UN resolutions and allow the Palestinians to establish their state,” Muallem concluded.
After Arab aggression led to the 1967 Six-Day War, Israel conquered almost 700 square miles of territory in the Golan Heights from Syria, ending years of the ongoing and indiscriminate shelling of Israeli towns in the valley below. In the 1973 Yom Kippur War, the Syrian army overran much of the Golan but was finally repelled at great cost by the IDF. The Golan was annexed by Menachem Begin’s Israeli government in 1981.
“We welcome any assistance with reconstruction from those countries that were not part of the aggression on Syria,” he said. “The countries that offer only conditional assistance or continue to support terrorism, they are neither invited nor welcome to help.”
Muallem referred to the U.S.-led multi-national coalition currently in his country fighting Al Qaeda and the Islamic State (ISIS) as “occupying forces” and demanded their immediate evacuation.
“They must withdraw immediately and without any conditions,” he told the UN General Assembly.
The U.S. currently has approximately 2,000 troops in Syria. Russia also has a significant military presence in Syria, supporting the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
There have been several attempts by the Israeli government over the years to arrive at a peace agreement with Syria, many of which included ceding the Israeli Golan to Syria. Iran’s involvement in Syria over the years has made this form of peace agreement unlikely. In May 2009, Prime Minister Netanyahu said that returning the Golan Heights would turn it into “Iran’s front lines which will threaten the whole state of Israel.”
In his address to the UN, Muallem invited Syrian civilians who fled the country during their ongoing seven-year civil war to return.
“Conditions are now present for the voluntary return of refugees,” Muallem said. “We have called upon the international community and humanitarian organizations to facilitate these returns. They are politicizing what should be a purely humanitarian issue.”
It is estimated that more than 500,000 people have been killed in Syria’s civil war. In 2016, from a pre-war population of 22 million, the UN identified 13.5 million Syrians requiring humanitarian assistance, of which more than 6 million were internally displaced within Syria, and an additional five million were refugees outside of Syria.